The African Union has convoked an extraordinary summit on October 10-11 to review Africa’s cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which this week unsealed two arrest warrants for a Kenyan and an Ivorian. And civil society has launched a campaign urging African nations to support the ICC.
The Kenyan government is working overtime to procure mass withdrawal of AU member states from the Rome Statute which created the court in attempts to frustrate cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto who are the alleged masterminds of the post-election violence of 2007-8.
Ruto’s case resumed this week, after it was adjourned to give him time to return to Kenya to mourn the victims of the Westgate Shopping Mall terrorist attack on September 21 in which at least 70 people were killed.
The African leaders’ mood regarding the ICC was signalled by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, a close ally of Kenyatta’s, who told the UN General Assembly in New York on 24 September that: “The ICC, in a shallow, biased way, has continued to mishandle complex African issues. This is not acceptable. The ICC should stop.” Yet Museveni five years ago requested the ICC to indict Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group.
The ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda this week unveiled two arrest warrants, one against Ivorian national, Charles Ble Goude, a former youth leader and aide to ex-president Laurent Gbagbo. He is wanted on four counts including murder and rape, allegedly committed during 2010-11 post-election violence.
The other warrant is against Kenyan journalist Walter Barasa, who is accused of attempting to bribe prosecution witnesses to withdraw from the case against Deputy President Ruto. Numerous witnesses have already withdrawn under unclear circumstances.
A draft letter by civil society groups to African ICC states parties seen by Kurunzi Afrika urges the governments to affirm their support for the court and the Rome Statute at the extraordinary AU summit.
“We believe any withdrawal from the ICC would send the wrong signal about Africa’s commitment to protect and promote human rights and reject impunity as reflected in article 4 of the AU’s Constitutive Act. Needless to say, the work and functioning of the ICC should not be beyond scrutiny and improvement. However, considerations of withdrawal risk grave consequences for civilians in Africa, who tend to bear the brunt of serious crimes committed in violation of international law,” the letter says.
The ICC remains the only permanent criminal court with the authority to act when a state with jurisdiction is unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute, the draft states. “As organizations working within Africa, some on behalf of or alongside victims of international crimes, we see every day the importance of ensuring access to justice. It is also important to note that withdrawal from the Rome Statute would not have a legal impact on the ICC’s existing cases.”
A key criticism raised by some African leaders is that the ICC is targeting Africa. While the ICC’s cases are entirely from Africa, the majority came before the court as a result of requests by the states where the crimes were committed (Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali).
Two other situations – Libya and Sudan – were referred by the United Nations Security Council, with the support of its African members. Kenya is the only situation where the ICC Office of the Prosecutor acted on its own initiative, but only with the approval of an ICC pre-trial chamber after Kenya failed to take action to ensure justice domestically.